Friday, March 20, 2015

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landry

Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have had the print book on my bookshelf for years, but I decided to try the audiobook from my library as this looked like it would be fun to listen to. Turns out I was right. This was a lot of fun. The narrator was great. He had a delicious Irish accent, although he modified it to suit other characters. I liked his sort of flat tone he used for Skulduggery, making him sound kind of ironic and mysterious, like there was a lot going on under the surface.

At first, it's a bit odd. There's some weird music between interludes, followed by a low male voice saying, "Yeah!" I thought that was pretty weird and random, but it grew on me, fast. I had no expectations, so it was all novel for me. I expected the story to be campy, but it turns out to be pretty dark.

Now the characters.

Skulduggery is a fun and likable character. But he's also credibly tough. He's a sorcerer who happened to lose his body in an epic battle. I wondered how the author would get me to buy into a story where the main character is just a skeleton. It took about ten minutes. When I heard the explanation, I was like, "Okay then." At some points, I'm skeptical that he's so blase about 12-year -old Stephanie going along with him on some very dangerous adventures. But I have to remind myself that the target audience is 12-year-olds. Skulduggery is a chill dude. It's funny how sanguine he is about Stephanie's bossing him around and threatening to hit him. Maybe he enjoys it because he's lonely. He was great friends with her uncle, so he might have developed a fondness for her via his friend. At any rate, he was very tolerant to Stephanie and he clearly took it very seriously to protect her, even if he did take her along on his dangerous missions. Knowing Stephanie, she probably would have followed him. Skulduggery is a good guy. You would think he'd be menacing, with the whole skeletal appearance, but he's an all around good guy, although he does have enough of a dark edge to be appealing and authentic. The interview with him at the end was awesome. Just the right touch for the audiobook.

Stephanie is in some ways very much a girl of her age. Tween and teenage girls have attitude for days. Yes, it's a bit of a generalization, but there is a lot of truth in it. She also had a very vivid inner life that I recognized in myself. Not that I would have wanted to do every thing she does (okay, maybe some of it). She's pretty saucy, if I'm honest. It made me laugh and part of thought I'd get the taste slapped out of my mouth if I had talked to an adult that way when I was a kid. All in all, she's a well-drawn character, with the sass, bravery, sense of honor and a great sense of humor that should appeal to most readers.

Together, they make quite a team. I enjoyed their buddy movie banter. Even if Stephanie could be kind of rude to Skulduggery. I loved it when he told her she was "very annoying."

The secondary characters are good, all making sense to the story. I liked the interactions between Stephanie and her clueless parents. They were cute. In a way, it was pretty obvious that Stephanie pretty much got away with a lot more than you'd expect for her age with them.

I like that the tone of this book stays intense but with some good humor. I like that while Landry doesn't take himself too seriously, he shows respect for the intellect of his young readers. In other words, he doesn't make the story too silly or ridiculous. We are dealing with a very evil set of villains with uber-nefarious purposes. Some aspects were fairly creepy, and it reminded me a little of Simon R. Green's Nightside books in a good way. China Sorrow especially definitely made me think of a Nightside character. Don't get me wrong. I don't think this was derivative at all. It feels novel and unique amongst the many urban fantasy stories I've read or encountered. It has a lot of good action, and Skulduggery can fight, with his fists, with his trusty sidearm, and with his elemental magic. Speaking of, the magic elements were well done. They had a unique feel. I like the explanation about the different types of magic users. I think this series would make a fun movie. I'd be cool with either live action or animation.

I definitely want to continue this series, and I am crossing my fingers that I can get the rest of these on audiobook.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Doll BonesDoll Bones by Holly Black
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Did you know that the fear of dolls is called Pediophobia? It is. I just learned something new just now about my deep-seated fear of antique dolls. Suffice it to say that I for one find antique dolls very creepy. Apparently, I'm not alone. Holly Black seemed to take pediophobia and run with it. Imagine these kids who have their elaborate role-playing game that involves action figures and dolls, and they employ one of the girl's mom's prized possessions as the Great Queen. She rules over the imaginary lands in their games like a sinister matriarch.

When Zach's father throws away his action figures, Zach is devastated, and he is forced to abandon the games he plays with Poppy and Alice, leaving them both confused and feeling betrayed. Poppy decides that they need a quest, and the quest takes the form of a mission given by the spirit of the doll, a young girl named Eleanor, who comes to Poppy in her dreams. Zach needs and craves an adventure, even if he's not sure he believes completely in this Eleanor. Although the doll does seem to have a creepy life to her. Alice is the peacemaker of the trio, with a very overprotective, controlling grandmother, and she's developing feelings for Zach that go beyond friendship.

This trio of friends go on an adventure to settle the restless spirit of Eleanor, and perhaps in the process, they can mend their broken friendship.

I listened to Doll Bones on audio, and I think this is the ideal format for this book. The narrator makes the most of the creepy elements of this story. He's good with voices and altering his pitch to mimic the voice of tween girls in a way that feels authentic. He also captures the chaotic emotions of children of this age, especially those with troubled home lives like all three kids.

I wouldn't say this was scary enough to cost a woman my age some sleep, but it did give me a shiver or too. It also made me feel nostalgic for the imaginative games of childhood that are now in my past. I didn't have the same close trio of friends to play dolls with, but I did play Barbie dolls on my own for longer than I care to admit, and the power of one's imagination takes those dolls to a place where they are endowed a life one wouldn't expect of carved figures of plastic.

As far as parental guidance, the aspect of these young kids taking off on an adventure in the middle of the night would probably make the average parent's hair stand on its end. There are some other questionable moral choices that would make me caution a parent to have some oversight if their younger child read this book. Nothing too crazy, but certainly worthy of caution.

This was good but not great. I definitely recommend reaching for the audiobook if one's interest is perked.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

Silence For the DeadSilence For the Dead by Simone St. James

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

After reading Ms. St. James first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, I made a note to keep reading her books. I was that impressed. I am quite fond of the early 20th Century period in a fictional setting, and this seems to be a particular area of interest for her as well.  With this book, she focused on the troubled homefront of Post-WWI England, when veterans are coming back from the war damaged, both in body and in mind. Kitty Weekes is desperate for a job, desperate enough to take a job at Portis House, an isolated mental health facility for veterans. She lies about being a nurse, and she's caught in her lie, but the Matron allows her to keep the job anyway, as she's that desperate for another 'nurse'.  Kitty soon realizes just how wrong things are at Portis House, but it's not like she has anywhere else to go.

"Silence for the Dead" is Gothic fiction, and the author does choose a fearsome setting in a haunted mental hospital.  Unfortunately, this book lacked the degree of authentic and effective atmosphere that this story cried out for.  I expected to be really unsettled by this story, considering its setting in an asylum with a troubled history as a family home whose family disappeared under decidedly strange circumstances.  It seems to suggest some very powerful emotions of fear of isolation, abandonment and entrapment.  However, I felt that things just didn't come together very well.  I thought that some unsettling events that occur in the house would be explained or tie more strongly into the story and origin of the haunting, but they weren't in a satisfactory way.  Don't get me wrong. There were some parts that were quite eerie. However, I think that this story could have been a lot more frightening than it was, considering the subject matter.

One of the things I liked most about this novel was the authentic characters, most of whom are veterans who suffer from profound mental illness as a result of the horrors of the war.  It was quite sad how they were viewed by the public and their families as a whole. As cowards in that they were emotionally and mentally affected by the events occurring on the Front. Only a veteran can truly attest to the statement "War is Hell," and one would think that their loved ones would respect that they had survived and came home, even if they were tormented by their experiences.  It was a slap in the face at how some of this men were treated, as if their surviving the war was an affront, as opposed to dying as "heroes".  This aspect of the book spoke strongly to me, and gave me a lot to think about, as we still deal with veterans and how their lives are profoundly impacted by their war experiences. It's a good reminder to me to show sensitivity and to pray for their healing and restoration from their wounds.

This story has a strong romantic element that I did appreciate, although it did seem kind of crammed into the story around the Gothic and paranormal suspense elements.  I really liked Jack and Kitty both. They were strong characters who had both suffered and understood what rejection and isolation was. In Kitty's case, she was very wise beyond her young years, and carried her own set of battle scars.  She actually keeps my interest the most and remains a rootable character throughout this novel. I do have to say that the veterans did grow on me and I hoped for their well-being over the course of the novel.

I wish I liked this book more than I did, quite simply.  For me, it failed to attain the potential the setting and story seems to promise.  However, it was a good book, and I certainly did appreciate Kitty and Jack, and the setting and time period.  For what it's worth, I think this would make a good movie.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fairest Volume 2: The Hidden Kingdom by by Bill Willingham, Lauren Beukes, IƱaki Miranda (Illustrations)

Fairest, Vol. 2: The Hidden KingdomFairest, Vol. 2: The Hidden Kingdom by Bill Willingham

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Once again, Bill Willingham and company have created a fresh spin on a fairy tale. And he takes Rapunzel to a very adult and at times disturbing journey to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Rapunzel has been looking for her children for many, many years.  Even though she was forced to forget them, she never really does.  That was a poignant note in this story.  An interesting touch was that Rapunzel's hair grows continually, and she experiences very rapid growth spurts of her hair under strong emotion.  You can guess how that plays into the story! Her companion is one of the Crow brothers, who is also her hairdresser.  Her time in Japan opens the doorway to a story full of Japan's very imaginative, and in some ways very frightful folklore. 

If you're like me and Japanese horror movies scare the you know what out of you, you might find this volume therapeutic.  There is an interesting twist on the drowned maiden in the well.  And I will never look at hairballs the same way again. 

There are some dark elements in this one, probably the most out of all the Fables/Fairest volumes I've read, so reader beware.  Having said that, I loved it just as much as the other ones. Rapunzel is both sympathetic and at times, really kind of scary.  I've never thought much about her, so this volume definitely has me seeing her in a different light.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars

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Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in RedCloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite honestly, I liked the idea of this collection more than I liked the stories. I did appreciate the humor and the fact that Velde did address the issues she'd always had with the Little Red Ridinghood story in its varied incarnations.  I actually agree with her on many points. However, I think a few of the stories took a bit too much of a left turn.  One even goes into a direction that makes the Woodsman into a foil who complicates the storylines of several other fairy tale protagonists. Clever touch, but I was annoyed with the man, honestly.  I really liked the story from the viewpoint of Red's grandmother who makes friends with the wolf in an intriguing way. I have a soft spot for wolves, so I rather liked that the wolf wasn't necessarily the villain in most of the stories. The last story was a fun touch about Red's cloak being sentient.  Overall, Red doesn't come off in a very flattering way. But I think that's kind of the point of things.  Clearly Velde doesn't think the traditional fairy tale treats Red as the smartest or most interesting character anyway.

The narrator really kicks this up a notch.  She makes the story fun with her different voices and intonations.   I felt like she had fun reading this book.  That's always a good thing.

Overall, this was a fun audiobook, but it isn't nearly my favorite when it comes to fairy tale retellings.  However, if you are a fairy tale freak like me, you'd probably want to check it out.

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was delightful, from beginning to end.  I was searching for how to classify it, and in the afterward, Ms. Berry mentioned the term, British Farce. And that's what this is.  I am all for Girl Power, and this book is very much about girl power and the bond between girls/women.  Not only is this a sisterhood bonding story, it's also a bit like Oceans Eleven, one of those caper-type stories where you have a disparate group of individuals who are thrown together under a common bond.  I'd call these girls the Scandalous Seven.  You have Dear Roberta, Dull Martha, Pocked Louise, Dour Elinor, Stout Alice, Disgraceful Mary Jane and their de facto leader, Smooth Kitty.  Each girl brings a different characteristic to the book, and I loved each and every one of them. I just wanted to give them all a hug (even Elinor, whose obsession was death was a little bit disturbing at times).

Such a dark subject, a double murder at a quiet ladies school. However, Berry handles it with a deft touch. Instead of spending too much time dwelling on the horror of the girls' predicament, the reader is focused on how these girls react to it and take measures to prevent their sisterhood from ending prematurely.  I like the way they work together, and despite the typical occasional squabbles among young women, they look out for each other and validate each other.

I loved the humor. It was mostly subtle, but sometimes laugh out loud. It reminds me very much of British comedy with some British mystery thrown in. 

There is a nice dose of romance, because, well they are young women, and romance is often a factor. However, the youngest, Pocked Louise, could give a fig for boys. She's our resident sleuth, and a very smart sleuth she is and she thinks boys are foul.  The other ladies, all seem to find guys who prick their fancy. Even Smooth Kitty, who thinks she's got everything all figured out. It thought it was so funny how big a flirt Disgraceful Mary Jane was, and a very unrepentant one at that!

I have been quite stingy with five star ratings lately, but I can't talk myself out of giving one for this book. I am very thankful to Olga Godim for bringing "The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place" to my attention. It was scandalously good!

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Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 by Tom Taylor, Jheremy Raapack (Illustrations), Various (Illustrations)

Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 by Tom    Taylor

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What could drive Superman to commit the ultimate act--murder?

Injustice deals in a very frank manner with that question.  It was quite terrifying to see Superman go over the edge. He doesn't go to the extreme of Plutonian in Irredeemable, Vol. 1, but he goes to dark places that it's uncomfortable to see, and his actions divide the Justice League as a result.  I have to say that Wonder Woman was a bit scary in this book.  Out of all of the characters, I think that Batman stays true to form.

I haven't played the game, so I can't say how closely the storyline mirrors the videogame. I wonder if they didn't beef up the backstory based on a basic premise in the videogame.  It makes for a good graphic novel, but don't look for the characters to stay as true to their typical ethoses in the canon storyline. That's not what we get here.

I liked the cameo by Harley Quinn, although I still don't get why she's so in love with the Joker.  Her teasing of Green Arrow was pretty funny, I must say.

If you can get this from your library, it's worth a read.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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